Pierce v. Albanese

Decision Date13 February 1957
Citation129 A.2d 606,144 Conn. 241
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesGrace E. PIERCE et al. v. Pasquale ALBANESE. Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut

J. Warren Upson, Waterbury, with whom were John H. Cassidy, Jr., Waterbury, and, on the brief, John M. Brannelly, Bridgeport, for appellant (defendant).

C. Harold Schwartz, Bridgeport, with whom were Arnold Bai, Bridgeport, and, on the brief, David Goldstein, Bridgeport, for appellees (plaintiffs).

Before INGLIS, C. J., BALDWIN and DALY, JJ., and SHAPIRO, Superior judge.

BALDWIN, Associate Justice.

This is an action brought under § 4307 of the General Statutes, popularly called the Dram Shop Act. The plaintiff Gordon D. Pierce owned and was a passenger in an Oldsmobile operated by the plaintiff Grace E. Pierce, his wife, when it was involved in a collision with a Chevrolet owned and operated by Floyd F. Gilleo on route 25 in Newtown on the night of September 28, 1952. The defendant is Pasquale Albanese, who owned and conducted on route 25 in Newtown a place of business, known as Pat's Log Cabin, where alcoholic beverages were sold to be consumed on the premises. The plaintiffs also brought suit against Floyd F. Gilleo, claiming damages for the alleged negligent operation of his Chevrolet. Floyd F. Gilleo filed a counterclaim seeking damages from the Pierces. Floyd H. Gilleo, a passenger in the Gilleo Chevrolet, also sued the Pierces for their alleged negligence. The cases were tried together to a court with a jury. Verdicts were returned in favor of the Pierces in the present action against Albanese. The other actions resulted in verdicts in favor of Floyd F. Gilleo on the complaint of the Pierces and in favor of the Pierces on Floyd F. Gilleo's counterclaim and in the action brought by Floyd H. Gilleo against them. We are directly concerned here only with the action brought by the Pierces against Albanese, in which he has appealed, alleging errors in the court's charge, in the denial of his motions to set aside the verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, in the refusal to submit an interrogatory to the jury, and in the finding. The errors alleged in the charge and in the ruling on the motions raise, among other questions, the defendant's claim that § 4307, as amended, Cum.Sup.1955, § 2172d, is unconstitutional. If that is so, a consideration of all the other issues becomes unnecessary to a decision of the case, and therefore we shall resolve that issue first.

The facts claimed to have been proved by the parties are not subject to any correction which will aid the defendant. They can be stated as follows: Route 25 in Newtown is a public highway running north and south. Route 6 joins it from the east at substantially right angles. The Pierces were visiting at the home of Dr. Clifford Johnson on the easterly side of route 25 about 500 yards south of its junction with route 6. Just north of the Johnson residence, a driveway extends easterly at right angles with the outer edge of the shoulder of route 25. The Pierces had parked their Oldsmobile in this driveway, off the traveled portion of route 25, while they were visiting in the Johnson home. The Gilleos had left Bridgeport about 11 p. m., intending to go fishing in Lake Zoar. Their course was north on route 25 and east on route 6. Twenty to twenty-five minutes after leaving Bridgeport, they stopped at Pat's Log Cabin, owned by the defendant and located on route 25 something more than a mile south of its junction with route 6. It was the Gilleos' custom when going fishing to stop for a drink of alcoholic beverage on the way to and from the lake. The defendant was at the Log Cabin when they came in. The Gilleos had something alcoholic to drink and left about midnight, proceeding north on route 25. While at the Log Cabin, Floyd F. Gilleo, the driver of the car, consumed alcoholic beverage which was sold to him while he was in an intoxicated condition. The Pierces left the Johnson house about midnight. Mrs. Pierce got into the driver's seat of their car, and her husband got in beside her. Before Mrs. Pierce could put the car in motion, it was struck by the Gilleo car and both of the Pierces were thrown from their automobile. The Gilleo car proceeded northerly for 142 feet until it came to a stop well off the highway in the dooryard of a house on the easterly side of route 25, north of the Johnsons. Immediately after the impact both Gilleos were found at the place where their car came to rest, and both were intoxicated. The weather was clear, and there was nothing to interfere with the visibility of the driveway to the Johnson house.

The defendant claimed that when the Gilleos entered the Log Cabin they were not intoxicated, that while they were there they showed no signs of being under the influence of liquor, and that they were not intoxicated when they left. He also claimed that the Pierce car backed out of the driveway directly into the path of the Gilleo car and that the accident did not occur because of Floyd F. Gilleo's intoxication.

Section 4307 reads as follows: 'If any person, by himself or his agent, shall sell any alcoholic liquor to an intoxicated person, and such purchaser, in consequence of such intoxication, shall thereafter injure the person or property of another, such seller shall pay just damages to the person injured, to be recovered in an action under this section.' In London & Lancashire Indemnity Co. of America v. Duryea, 143 Conn. 53, 56, 119 A.2d 325, we examined the history of this statute. Briefly, it was enacted in its present form in 1933 as a part of the so-called Liquor Control Act and became effective upon the repeal of the Eighteenth (prohibition) Amendment. Cum.Sup.1935, § 1088c. We said, 143 Conn. at page 57, 119 A.2d at page 327, that to establish a cause of action under the statute against the seller of intoxicating liquor, proof of three elements was required: (1) a sale of intoxicating liquor (2) to an intoxicated person (3) who, in consequence of such intoxication, causes injury to the person or property of another. The court charged the jury to this effect. The defendant claims that such an interpretation renders the act unconstitutional because it imposes liability irrespective of any causal relation between the sale of the intoxicating liquor to an intoxicated person and the injury which follows as a result of the intoxication. Such an interpretation, so the defendant alleges, imposes liability without fault and makes the statute arbitrary, vague and unreasonable and therefore violative of the equal protection and due process provisions of the federal and state constitutions. U.S.Const. Amend. XIV, § 1; Conn.Const. Art. I, §§ 1, 12.

The defendant has advanced no compelling reason why the construction which we have already given the language of the statute should be changed and the statute construed so as to require proof of a causal relation between the sale of intoxicating liquor and the intoxication which caused injury. It is true that with respect to this particular feature, the wording of § 4307 differs radically from its predecessor, § 2815 of the Revision of 1918, which did require such proof. London & Lancashire Indemnity Co. of America v. Duryea, supra, 143 Conn. 57, 119 A.2d 327. As we stated in the Duryea case, however, the language of the statute is plain and unequivocal. Courts must presume that when the legislature chose the language contained in § 4307, instead of the drastically different language in § 2815, it intended to effect a change in the statute law. State ex rel. Markley v. Bartlett, 130 Conn. 88, 93, 32 A.2d 58. It is a cardinal rule, of course, that statutes should be construed by the courts in a way to give them validity. But that does not permit a court to distort the words used in order to wring out of them a desired interpretation. Watrous v. Connelly, 141 Conn. 257, 263, 105 A.2d 654; Lenox Realty Co. v. Hackett, 122 Conn. 143, 150, 187 A. 895, 107 A.L.R. 1306. The construction placed upon the statute must stand. The trial court correctly charged the essentials of proof necessary to establish a case within it.

The constitutional validity of § 4307 depends upon whether it is a proper legislative exercise of the police power of the state. The Twenty-first Amendment to the federal constitution, which repealed the prohibition amendment, 'allows the exercise of very broad police powers by the states with respect to alcoholic liquors. The states may absolutely prohibit the manufacture, transportation, sale or possession of such liquors within their borders or they may permit these activities under conditions prescribed by their legislatures. To these ends they can adopt such measures as they may deem reasonably appropriate. Ziffrin, Inc., v. Reeves, 308 U.S. 132, 138, 60 S.Ct. 163, 84 L.Ed. 128; Francis v. Fitzpatrick, 129 Conn. 619, 621, 30 A.2d 552, 145 A.L.R. 505. Because of the danger to the public health and welfare inherent in the liquor traffic, the police power to regulate and control it runs broad and deep, much more so than the power to curb and direct ordinary business activity. Mugler v. [State of] Kansas, 123 U.S. 623, 662, 8 S.Ct. 273, 31 L.Ed. 205; Crane v. Campbell, 245 U.S. 304, 307, 38 S.Ct. 98, 62 L.Ed. 304; see State v. Porter, 94 Conn. 639, 643, 110 A. 59; State v. Conlon, 65 Conn. 478, 486, 33 A. 519, 31 L.R.A. 55; 30 Am.Jur. 278, § 40.' Ruppert v. Liquor Control Commission, 138 Conn. 669, 674, 88 A.2d 388, 390; Francis v. Fitzpatrick, supra. Since the liquor business is one which can be dangerous to the public health, safety and morals, the range of legislative power to deal with it necessarily is a very wide one. It has been so recognized by the courts for a long time. The multitude of automobiles on the public highways enhance the danger. For many years the sale of intoxicating liquor to one already intoxicated has been prohibited by statute. General Statutes, § 4293. 1 For a great many years also,...

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